Several months ago, I had written about the idea of non-believers not accepting the books of the New Testament as evidence of actual events. What they are looking for is “extra-biblical texts” to corroborate what the Bible says.
In like fashion, I recently heard one atheist mention (several times, actually) that a person’s personal testimony of an experience with God would not be sufficient evidence to make a claim of His existence. Now, to a degree, I would have to agree with him. However, there are some inconsistencies with this idea.
You see, if you look at our legal system, which our friendly neighborhood atheist most likely has a higher degree of trust in, they are often tried before a jury. This jury is, by design, made up of individuals who were not present and did not personally witness the events upon which they will decide the veracity of.
In other words, they have to take the testimony of other people and, from that testimony, come to a decision about what the truth was…though they weren’t there. When you think about it, isn’t that about the same thing as what the Bible claims?
I agree that if every Tom, Dick and Harry come around claiming to have heard God speaking to them, we should proceed with a bit of caution. But, to simply throw out any evidence of personal testimony just because it didn’t happen to you would be like the juries in our court rooms never coming to a decision about anything because all they’d be able to report was “We weren’t there.”
But, there are ways of deciphering truth from personal testimony. In fact, it is done in the same way in our court systems and still applies with respect to both the Bible accounts as well as any modern personal testimony. There are certain things that one looks for, such as how closely certain details of individual accounts match up with one another. If one person claimed that God spoke to him and told him that He was heartbroken about the state of our society today and another claimed that God told him to blow up an abortion clinic, those two ideas are not closely enough connected to convince me that God spoke to them. The messages are far too different.
Now, if a dozen or so separate, geographically dispersed people felt moved to set up meetings with key personnel in their local Planned Parenthood locations and each one individually brought in some profound pro-life argument (calmly and rationally) without knowing anything about one another, and each claimed that they received this message from God, I might be more inclined to buy their story. After all, the stories resemble one another and they don’t violate what we already know from God’s revelation in scripture.
The point is, personal experience with divinity is not something that should be summarily discarded when such evidence meets the criteria necessary for other types of personal experience. I’m not saying God speaks to people today in the same way the Bible reports that He spoke to Adam or Abraham. But that doesn’t mean He can’t.
If someone says that God spoke to them and told them something or gave them a message to pass on to others, should we take their word for it? I’d say no. Not quite that easily, anyway. I’d prefer to handle it in a way that is more in line with biblical teaching. First, like the Bereans, I’d try to measure what this person was saying against the existing body of scripture. Next, like the leaders who confronted Jesus after He laid the smack down in the temple in Jerusalem, I’d request some sort of sign to show that this person is truly speaking on behalf of God.
No sign…no believing. But the no believing would not be based on the fact that God hadn’t spoken to me. It would be based on the fact that they couldn’t back up the claim of speaking for God. Those are two completely different things and should not be confused.
Have you ever had someone tell you that God “spoke” to them? What did He say? How did you determine whether or not you believed their testimony?
Grace, love and peace.